Welcome to Bookmarker!

This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading. Currently can only be used by a single user (myself), but I plan to extend it to support multiple users eventually.

Source code on GitHub (MIT license).

1

The exploration of viable alternatives brackets the question of their practical achievability under existing social conditions. Some have questioned the value of discussing theoretically viable alternatives if they are not strategically achievable. The response to such sceptics would be that there are so many uncertainties and contingencies about what lies ahead that we cannot possibly know now what the limits of achievable alternatives will be in future. Given this uncertainty, there are two reasons why it is important to have clear-headed understandings of the range of viable alternatives. First, developing such understandings now makes it more likely that, if future conditions expand the boundaries of what is possible, social forces committed to emancipatory change will be in a position to formulate practical strategies for implementing an alternative. Second, the actual limits of what is achievable depend in part on beliefs about what sorts of alternatives are viable. This is a crucial sociological point: social limits of possibility are not independent of beliefs about limits. [...] In the social case, however, beliefs about limits systematically affect what is possible. Developing compelling accounts of viable alternatives, therefore, is one component of the process through which these limits can themselves be changed.

It is no easy matter to make a credible argument that ‘another world is possible’. People are born into societies that are always already made, whose rules they learn and internalize as they grow up. People are preoccupied with the daily tasks of making a living, and coping with life’s pains and pleasures. The idea that the social world could be deliberately changed for the better in some fundamental way strikes them as far-fetched—both because it is hard to envisage some dramatically better yet workable alternative, and because it is hard to imagine successfully challenging the structures of power and privilege in order to create it. Thus even if one accepts the diagnosis and critique of existing institutions, the most natural response is probably a fatalistic sense that not much could be done to really change things.

i love this SO much

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The exploration of viable alternatives brackets the question of their practical achievability under existing social conditions. Some have questioned the value of discussing theoretically viable alternatives if they are not strategically achievable. The response to such sceptics would be that there are so many uncertainties and contingencies about what lies ahead that we cannot possibly know now what the limits of achievable alternatives will be in future. Given this uncertainty, there are two reasons why it is important to have clear-headed understandings of the range of viable alternatives. First, developing such understandings now makes it more likely that, if future conditions expand the boundaries of what is possible, social forces committed to emancipatory change will be in a position to formulate practical strategies for implementing an alternative. Second, the actual limits of what is achievable depend in part on beliefs about what sorts of alternatives are viable. This is a crucial sociological point: social limits of possibility are not independent of beliefs about limits. [...] In the social case, however, beliefs about limits systematically affect what is possible. Developing compelling accounts of viable alternatives, therefore, is one component of the process through which these limits can themselves be changed.

It is no easy matter to make a credible argument that ‘another world is possible’. People are born into societies that are always already made, whose rules they learn and internalize as they grow up. People are preoccupied with the daily tasks of making a living, and coping with life’s pains and pleasures. The idea that the social world could be deliberately changed for the better in some fundamental way strikes them as far-fetched—both because it is hard to envisage some dramatically better yet workable alternative, and because it is hard to imagine successfully challenging the structures of power and privilege in order to create it. Thus even if one accepts the diagnosis and critique of existing institutions, the most natural response is probably a fatalistic sense that not much could be done to really change things.

i love this SO much

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

These three modes of transformation suggest very different postures towards the politics of transformation. Ruptural transformation, at least in its more radical forms (‘Smash the state’), assumes that the core institutions of social reproduction cannot be effectively used for emancipatory purposes; they must be destroyed and replaced with something qualitatively new and different. Interstitial transformation (‘Ignore the state’) aims to get on with the business of building an alternative world inside the old from the bottom up. Perhaps there are moments when established institutions can be harnessed to facilitate this process, but interstitial transformation mostly sidesteps centres of power. Symbiotic transformation (‘Use the state’) looks for ways in which emancipatory changes can be embodied in the core institutions of social reproduction, especially the state. The hope is to forge new hybrid forms which have a ratchet-like character, moving us in the direction of enlarged scope for emancipatory social empowerment.

None of these strategies is unproblematic. None of them guarantees success. All of them contain risks and dilemmas. In different times and places, one or another may be the most effective, but typically none of them is sufficient by itself. It often happens that activists become deeply committed to one or another of these strategic visions, seeing them as universally valid. As a result, considerable energy is expended fighting against the rejected models. A long-term project with any prospects for success must grapple with the messy problem of combining these strategies, even if the combination inevitably means that struggles often operate at cross-purposes.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

These three modes of transformation suggest very different postures towards the politics of transformation. Ruptural transformation, at least in its more radical forms (‘Smash the state’), assumes that the core institutions of social reproduction cannot be effectively used for emancipatory purposes; they must be destroyed and replaced with something qualitatively new and different. Interstitial transformation (‘Ignore the state’) aims to get on with the business of building an alternative world inside the old from the bottom up. Perhaps there are moments when established institutions can be harnessed to facilitate this process, but interstitial transformation mostly sidesteps centres of power. Symbiotic transformation (‘Use the state’) looks for ways in which emancipatory changes can be embodied in the core institutions of social reproduction, especially the state. The hope is to forge new hybrid forms which have a ratchet-like character, moving us in the direction of enlarged scope for emancipatory social empowerment.

None of these strategies is unproblematic. None of them guarantees success. All of them contain risks and dilemmas. In different times and places, one or another may be the most effective, but typically none of them is sufficient by itself. It often happens that activists become deeply committed to one or another of these strategic visions, seeing them as universally valid. As a result, considerable energy is expended fighting against the rejected models. A long-term project with any prospects for success must grapple with the messy problem of combining these strategies, even if the combination inevitably means that struggles often operate at cross-purposes.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

For each of these three ideal types one can imagine an extreme form, in which only one sort of power is involved in controlling economic resources. In these terms, totalitarianism can be viewed as a form of hyper-statism in which state power is not simply the primary form of power over economic processes, but in which economic power and associational power largely disappear. In a pure libertarian capitalism the state atrophies to a mere ‘night watchman’, serving only to enforce property rights, and commercial activities penetrate into all areas of civil society, commodifying everything. The exercise of economic power would almost fully explain the allocation and use of resources; citizens are atomized consumers who make individual choices in a market but exercise no collective power over the economy through association in civil society. Communism, as classically understood in Marxism, is a form of society in which the state has withered away and the economy is absorbed into civil society as the free, cooperative activity of associated individuals.

None of these extreme forms could exist as a stable, reproducible form of social organization. Totalitarianism never completely eliminated informal social networks as a basis for cooperative social interaction beyond the direct control of the state, and the practical functioning of economic institutions was never fully subordinated to centralized command-and-control planning. Capitalism would be an unreproducible and chaotic social order if the state played the minimalist role specified in the libertarian fantasy, but it would also, as Polanyi argued, function much more erratically if civil society was absorbed into the economy as a fully commodified and atomized arena of social life. Pure communism is also a utopian fantasy, since it is hard to imagine a complex society without some sort of authoritative means of making and enforcing rules (a ‘state’). Feasible, sustainable forms of large-scale social organization, therefore, always involve some kind of reciprocal relations among these three forms of power.

Within this general conceptualization, capitalism, statism and socialism should be thought of not simply as discrete ideal types but also as variables. The more the decisions made by actors exercising economic power based on private ownership determine the allocation and use of productive resources, the more capitalist the economic structure. The more that power exercised through the state determines the allocation and use of resources, the more the society is statist. And the more power rooted in civil society determines such allocations and use, the more the society is socialist. There are thus all sorts of complex mixed cases and hybrids—in which, for example, a society is capitalist in certain respects and statist or socialist in others.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

For each of these three ideal types one can imagine an extreme form, in which only one sort of power is involved in controlling economic resources. In these terms, totalitarianism can be viewed as a form of hyper-statism in which state power is not simply the primary form of power over economic processes, but in which economic power and associational power largely disappear. In a pure libertarian capitalism the state atrophies to a mere ‘night watchman’, serving only to enforce property rights, and commercial activities penetrate into all areas of civil society, commodifying everything. The exercise of economic power would almost fully explain the allocation and use of resources; citizens are atomized consumers who make individual choices in a market but exercise no collective power over the economy through association in civil society. Communism, as classically understood in Marxism, is a form of society in which the state has withered away and the economy is absorbed into civil society as the free, cooperative activity of associated individuals.

None of these extreme forms could exist as a stable, reproducible form of social organization. Totalitarianism never completely eliminated informal social networks as a basis for cooperative social interaction beyond the direct control of the state, and the practical functioning of economic institutions was never fully subordinated to centralized command-and-control planning. Capitalism would be an unreproducible and chaotic social order if the state played the minimalist role specified in the libertarian fantasy, but it would also, as Polanyi argued, function much more erratically if civil society was absorbed into the economy as a fully commodified and atomized arena of social life. Pure communism is also a utopian fantasy, since it is hard to imagine a complex society without some sort of authoritative means of making and enforcing rules (a ‘state’). Feasible, sustainable forms of large-scale social organization, therefore, always involve some kind of reciprocal relations among these three forms of power.

Within this general conceptualization, capitalism, statism and socialism should be thought of not simply as discrete ideal types but also as variables. The more the decisions made by actors exercising economic power based on private ownership determine the allocation and use of productive resources, the more capitalist the economic structure. The more that power exercised through the state determines the allocation and use of resources, the more the society is statist. And the more power rooted in civil society determines such allocations and use, the more the society is socialist. There are thus all sorts of complex mixed cases and hybrids—in which, for example, a society is capitalist in certain respects and statist or socialist in others.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

No existing social theory is sufficiently powerful to even begin to construct such a comprehensive chart of possible social destinations beyond capitalism. It may well be that such a theory is impossible even in principle—social change is too complex and too deeply affected by contingent concatenations of causal processes to be represented in plan form. In any case, no map is available. And yet we want to leave the place where we are because of its harms and injustices. What is to be done?

Instead of the metaphor of a road map guiding us to a known destination, we could think of the project of emancipatory social change as more like a voyage of exploration. We leave the familiar world equipped with navigational devices that tell us the direction in which we are moving and how far from our point of departure we have travelled, but without a map laying out the entire route from origin to endpoint. This has perils, of course: we may encounter unforeseen obstacles which force us to move in a direction we had not planned; we may have to backtrack and try a new route. Perhaps with technologies we invent along the way we can create some artificial high ground and see somewhat into the distance. In the end, we may discover that there are absolute limits to how far we can go; but we can at least know if we are moving in the right direction.

This approach to thinking about emancipatory alternatives retains a strong normative vision of life beyond capitalism, while acknowledging the limits of our knowledge about the real possibilities of transcending the capitalist system. This is not to embrace the false certainty that there are untransgressable limits for constructing a democratic egalitarian alternative: the absence of solid scientific knowledge about the limits of possibility applies not only to the prospects for radical alternatives but also to the durability of capitalism. The key to embarking on such a journey of exploration is the usefulness of our navigational device. We need, then, to construct what might be called a socialist compass: the principles which tell us whether we are moving in the right direction.

<3

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

No existing social theory is sufficiently powerful to even begin to construct such a comprehensive chart of possible social destinations beyond capitalism. It may well be that such a theory is impossible even in principle—social change is too complex and too deeply affected by contingent concatenations of causal processes to be represented in plan form. In any case, no map is available. And yet we want to leave the place where we are because of its harms and injustices. What is to be done?

Instead of the metaphor of a road map guiding us to a known destination, we could think of the project of emancipatory social change as more like a voyage of exploration. We leave the familiar world equipped with navigational devices that tell us the direction in which we are moving and how far from our point of departure we have travelled, but without a map laying out the entire route from origin to endpoint. This has perils, of course: we may encounter unforeseen obstacles which force us to move in a direction we had not planned; we may have to backtrack and try a new route. Perhaps with technologies we invent along the way we can create some artificial high ground and see somewhat into the distance. In the end, we may discover that there are absolute limits to how far we can go; but we can at least know if we are moving in the right direction.

This approach to thinking about emancipatory alternatives retains a strong normative vision of life beyond capitalism, while acknowledging the limits of our knowledge about the real possibilities of transcending the capitalist system. This is not to embrace the false certainty that there are untransgressable limits for constructing a democratic egalitarian alternative: the absence of solid scientific knowledge about the limits of possibility applies not only to the prospects for radical alternatives but also to the durability of capitalism. The key to embarking on such a journey of exploration is the usefulness of our navigational device. We need, then, to construct what might be called a socialist compass: the principles which tell us whether we are moving in the right direction.

<3

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

[...] the harms described are generated by mechanisms that are intrinsic to capitalism as such. This does not mean that in a capitalist society—a society with a capitalist economic structure—there is nothing that can be done to counteract these harms. But it does imply that in order for this to happen, non-capitalist mechanisms must be introduced to counteract the effects of capitalism itself. This leaves open the question of how far one can go in mitigating these harms without cumulatively introducing so many counter-capitalist mechanisms as to transform the capitalist character of the economic structure itself. [...]

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

[...] the harms described are generated by mechanisms that are intrinsic to capitalism as such. This does not mean that in a capitalist society—a society with a capitalist economic structure—there is nothing that can be done to counteract these harms. But it does imply that in order for this to happen, non-capitalist mechanisms must be introduced to counteract the effects of capitalism itself. This leaves open the question of how far one can go in mitigating these harms without cumulatively introducing so many counter-capitalist mechanisms as to transform the capitalist character of the economic structure itself. [...]

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

Developing an understanding of these issues is the objective of the third general task of emancipatory social science: the theory of transformation. We can think of emancipatory social science as an account of a journey from the present to a possible future: the critique of society tells us why we want to leave the world in which we live; the theory of alternatives tells us where we want to go; and the theory of transformation tells us how to get from here to there. This involves a number of difficult, interconnected problems: a theory of the mechanisms of social reproduction which sustain existing structures of power and privilege; a theory of the contradictions, limits and gaps in such systems, which can open up space for strategies of social transformation; a theory of the developmental dynamics of the system that will change the conditions for such strategies over time; and, crucially, a theory of the strategies of transformation themselves.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Developing an understanding of these issues is the objective of the third general task of emancipatory social science: the theory of transformation. We can think of emancipatory social science as an account of a journey from the present to a possible future: the critique of society tells us why we want to leave the world in which we live; the theory of alternatives tells us where we want to go; and the theory of transformation tells us how to get from here to there. This involves a number of difficult, interconnected problems: a theory of the mechanisms of social reproduction which sustain existing structures of power and privilege; a theory of the contradictions, limits and gaps in such systems, which can open up space for strategies of social transformation; a theory of the developmental dynamics of the system that will change the conditions for such strategies over time; and, crucially, a theory of the strategies of transformation themselves.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

The viability of a specific institutional design, of course, may not be an all-or-nothing affair. It may crucially depend upon various kinds of side conditions. For example, a generous unconditional basic income may be viable in a country in which there is a strong, culturally rooted work ethic and sense of collective obligation, but not in a highly atomistic consumerist society. Or, a basic income could be viable in a society that had already developed over a long period of time a generous redistributive welfare state based on a patchwork of targeted programmes, but not in a society with a miserly, limited welfare state. Discussions of viability, therefore, tend also to include the contextual conditions of possibility for particular designs to work well.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

The viability of a specific institutional design, of course, may not be an all-or-nothing affair. It may crucially depend upon various kinds of side conditions. For example, a generous unconditional basic income may be viable in a country in which there is a strong, culturally rooted work ethic and sense of collective obligation, but not in a highly atomistic consumerist society. Or, a basic income could be viable in a society that had already developed over a long period of time a generous redistributive welfare state based on a patchwork of targeted programmes, but not in a society with a miserly, limited welfare state. Discussions of viability, therefore, tend also to include the contextual conditions of possibility for particular designs to work well.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

Emancipatory social science, in its broadest terms, seeks to generate knowledge relevant to the collective project of challenging human oppression and creating the conditions in which people can live flourishing lives. To call it a social science, rather than social criticism or philosophy, is to recognize the importance for this task of systematic scientific knowledge about how the world works. To call it emancipatory is to identify its central moral purpose—the elimination of oppression, and the creation of conditions for human flourishing. And to call it social implies a belief that emancipation depends upon the transformation of the social world, not just the inner self. To fulfil its mission, any emancipatory social science faces three basic tasks: first, to elaborate a systematic diagnosis and critique of the world as it exists; second, to envision viable alternatives; and third, to understand the obstacles, possibilities and dilemmas of transformation. In different historical moments one or another of these may be more pressing than others, but all are necessary for a comprehensive emancipatory theory.

Diagnosis and critique

The starting point for an emancipatory social science is not simply to show that there is suffering and inequality in the world, but to demonstrate that the explanation for these ills lies in the specific properties of existing institutions and social structures, and to identify the ways in which they systematically cause harm to people. The first task, therefore, is the diagnosis and critique of the causal processes that generate these harms.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago

Emancipatory social science, in its broadest terms, seeks to generate knowledge relevant to the collective project of challenging human oppression and creating the conditions in which people can live flourishing lives. To call it a social science, rather than social criticism or philosophy, is to recognize the importance for this task of systematic scientific knowledge about how the world works. To call it emancipatory is to identify its central moral purpose—the elimination of oppression, and the creation of conditions for human flourishing. And to call it social implies a belief that emancipation depends upon the transformation of the social world, not just the inner self. To fulfil its mission, any emancipatory social science faces three basic tasks: first, to elaborate a systematic diagnosis and critique of the world as it exists; second, to envision viable alternatives; and third, to understand the obstacles, possibilities and dilemmas of transformation. In different historical moments one or another of these may be more pressing than others, but all are necessary for a comprehensive emancipatory theory.

Diagnosis and critique

The starting point for an emancipatory social science is not simply to show that there is suffering and inequality in the world, but to demonstrate that the explanation for these ills lies in the specific properties of existing institutions and social structures, and to identify the ways in which they systematically cause harm to people. The first task, therefore, is the diagnosis and critique of the causal processes that generate these harms.

—p.1 Compass Points: Towards a Socialist Alternative by Erik Olin Wright 1 month, 3 weeks ago
1

[...] this is the way I want us to consider Wal- Mart, however briefly: namely, as a thought experiment—not, after Lenin’s crude but practical fashion, as an institution faced with which (after the revolution) we can “lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus,” but rather as what Raymond Williams called the emergent, as opposed to the residual—the shape of a Utopian future looming through the mist, which we must seize as an opportunity to exercise the Utopian imagination more fully, rather than an occasion for moralizing judgments or regressive nostalgia.

—p.1 Fredric Jameson: Wal-Mart as Utopia by Fredric Jameson 7 months, 1 week ago

[...] this is the way I want us to consider Wal- Mart, however briefly: namely, as a thought experiment—not, after Lenin’s crude but practical fashion, as an institution faced with which (after the revolution) we can “lop off what capitalistically mutilates this excellent apparatus,” but rather as what Raymond Williams called the emergent, as opposed to the residual—the shape of a Utopian future looming through the mist, which we must seize as an opportunity to exercise the Utopian imagination more fully, rather than an occasion for moralizing judgments or regressive nostalgia.

—p.1 Fredric Jameson: Wal-Mart as Utopia by Fredric Jameson 7 months, 1 week ago
1

The founder of the far-right Breitbart News, Andrew Breitbart, was fond of saying that “politics is downstream from culture.” The Frankfurt School would agree, but add (as all good Marxists would) that culture is in turn downstream from economics, which is really downstream from rich people peeing in the river. At his least pessimistic, Adorno tells us that by asserting our subjectivity in the sphere of culture we can, in a way, weaponize our sense of self and the alternate timeline of modernity that lies dormant in us.

—p.1 What Would the Frankfurt School Think of Social Media? missing author 1 year, 5 months ago

The founder of the far-right Breitbart News, Andrew Breitbart, was fond of saying that “politics is downstream from culture.” The Frankfurt School would agree, but add (as all good Marxists would) that culture is in turn downstream from economics, which is really downstream from rich people peeing in the river. At his least pessimistic, Adorno tells us that by asserting our subjectivity in the sphere of culture we can, in a way, weaponize our sense of self and the alternate timeline of modernity that lies dormant in us.

—p.1 What Would the Frankfurt School Think of Social Media? missing author 1 year, 5 months ago